Memories are funny things. They can make you suck in your breath with wonder, make your stomach drop like a roller coaster ride, or they can make tears run down your face before you have time to think about swiping them off with your fist. They can be subtle and sweet, or hit you like a ton of bricks when you least expect it.
I think about her often. It's been a week now, and she's still an automatic reflex when I do things like turn down the frozen food aisle and stand in front of the Lean Cuisines, habitually ready to pick the requisite five or six boxes she considered "her dinners". Then I remember, she's gone. She doesn't have to decide between Sesame Chicken or Stuffed Peppers ever again. And suddenly, I am the idiot in the frozen food aisle who appears to be crying because Hollywood Market is out of Salisbury steak.
I suppose eventually it will get easier. My friend sent me some words today that I treasure. We both lost grandmothers that were larger than life and we long ago decided we were friends because we don't feed each other sugar coated cliches in times like this. His words were perfect. Here is what he wrote: "I wish I could tell you that things will be okay, things will be alright, the pain of losing someone special will eventually lessen or that time heals all wounds. All of that is crap and the truth is that when we lose someone that has loved us unconditionally their memories will always make us laugh, make us cry, make us yearn for the days past and make us look forward to the future and seeing them again."
His words make me ponder something I can't always make myself think about. The "what's next" part of death. For Nana, and for me, too. During those "what's next" times, I watch as people with strong beliefs take solace in all the things they have been taught, surrounded by their church families and lifted up in their worship. My non-conforming Catholic childhood is not giving me a lot of assistance at this dark time. Instead I work to tap into my spiritual side, preferring to cut to the chase and simply talk with Nana, knowing fully well she isn't going to answer. I ask her how things are going in her first week on not-Earth, who she has seen and if she has found my dogs yet. I tell her about my day and firmly believe I am telling her things she already knows. I am pretty sure she's watching as I pick my way through this whole grief thing.
After Nana died, a young man came to Hospice House to pick her up. His name was Levi, and he could not have been much older than my Travis. He made such an impression on me; the old, bereavement obsessed nurse who demands her coworkers leave the room if they "can't handle" a grieving family. Levi asked me if I would like to help get Nana ready for the ride. Memories of my Gramps getting wheeled out of his bedroom in a bag make my stomach turn even to this day, but I pushed that thought away and told Levi "of course, I wanted to help." Together Levi and I picked up all 85 pounds of Nana and wrapped her in a soft sheet. I reached for the blanket to put over her and looked for the body bag that I knew had to be hiding discreetly under it. No body bag. Levi smiled at me as he said "we don't need one, she will be fine". Levi gave me space as I pulled the blanket up, kissing Nana one last time and telling her how much I loved her. Together we clicked the seat belts over her and tightened them up around her little body. He maneuvered her gently out of the room and out of the tasteful bay-jeh walls of Hospice House. I spun on my heel and grabbed my things and walked into the bright morning sun to drive home, swiping the tears off my cheeks with my fist.
As I pulled onto the road, I had the wintery waters of the Black River on my left and the memories of three months of long drives, nursing homes and tears on my right. Neither option appealed to me so I looked ahead. I sighed, wondering how those three months came spiraling down to end like this; no Nana riding shotgun, no errands left to run, no panicked reminders that the light in front of me "might just turn yellow any second". The realization that an enormous chunk of my life was now traveling the opposite direction in a hearse hit at the exact time I looked up to see them: two swans, flying along over my car for five, maybe ten seconds before they broke off for the river. Two swans who were not the cardinals I always swore represented my Gramps. Two swans who knew that cardinals would have been too small to see through my tears and who wanted me to know that finally, almost twenty years later, they were together again and would always watch over me.
I drove home to the people that are my world, ready to continue making memories.